The 2013 Hattiesburg, Mississippi tornado was a large violent EF4 multiple-vortex wedge tornado that devastated the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi as well as portions of surrounding areas of West Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg, and Petal. The tornado was one of eight that touched down in southern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama that day. It reached a maximum path width of 0.75 mi (1.21 km) in its path through the Hattiesburg area and reached estimated maximum sustained winds of 170 mph (270 km/h) in Oak Grove neighborhood of West Hattiesburg. It destroyed many structures and impacted University of Southern Mississippi and two high schools (Oak Grove High School and Hattiesburg High School). Mississippi was declared a federal disaster area by President Barack Obama, and a state of emergency was issued by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.
The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had stated as early as February 8 that a few supercells may develop on the 10th and could result in large hail, damaging winds, and a few tornadoes. When the thunderstorm outlook was issued for the 10th, the SPC stated that only a marginal chance for severe supercell thunderstorms existed and only a few storms would develop. Most of the severe activity was expected to develop along the cold front in the form of a squall line. A 10 percent chance of isolated tornadoes was introduced as the instability remained marginal for the event.
During the morning of February 10, a squall line developed along a cold front that stretched from western Arkansas, down through northwest Louisiana, and into east Texas. At the same time, a warm front was ascending northward through Mississippi and Louisiana. The area between the fronts became increasingly unstable as the day progressed, and four tornado watches were issued across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama throughout the day as the storms progressed eastward. The watches were issued as very strong wind shear and instability engrossed the area, allowing for the development of supercell thunderstorms. These watches were issued through the day, with the first being posted at 7 a.m. CST (1300 UTC) and the last coming out at 5:35 p.m. CST (2335 UTC).
As the afternoon progressed, the cold front and squall line began to stall over Louisiana and Arkansas. The supercells that developed during the afternoon ahead of the squall line originated across Louisiana and southern Mississippi. Around 4 p.m. (2200 UTC), a supercell developed and produced a tornado (rated EF2) in Marion County, Mississippi. That tornado tracked northeast and into Lamar County, where it lifted. The supercell quickly produced another tornado – this one was a large wedge tornado that would go on to hit the Hattiesburg area.
The tornado touched down west-southwest of West Hattiesburg at 5:03 p.m. CST (2303 UTC), causing EF0-rated damage to tree limbs at the western edge of the community. It rapidly widened and intensified as it moved through residential subdivisions in the city, snapping numerous trees and power poles, severely damaging homes, and expanding to one half-mile wide. Further northeast, it narrowed as it struck Oak Grove High School, causing massive damage to the school's athletic complex. Several well-constructed buildings around the athletic stadiums at the school were destroyed, with twisting/buckling of steel girders noted. Several steel light poles with concrete reinforcement were snapped as well. Vehicles were thrown in considerable distances, one of which was taken from a parking lot of the high school, rolled up a hill and across the baseball field, and then deposited onto the pitcher's mound. Much of the damage in this area ranged from EF2 to EF3 intensity, though an isolated pocket of EF4 damage occurred just to the southwest of the high school, as a well-built brick home was completely flattened with debris scattered downwind. Trees were denuded and debarked. The tornado then approached Interstate 59, heavily damaging numerous homes and apartment buildings at EF2 to EF3 strength, and snapping more trees and power lines. It crossed the interstate and entered Forrest County, where it tore through densely populated areas of Hattiesburg, resulting in major damage.
In Forrest County, roughly 300 homes and other structures were either damaged or destroyed as the tornado moved through various neighborhoods and business districts. The University of Southern Mississippi sustained significant damage to the southern portion of its campus, including at least six buildings that were damaged and two more that were destroyed. A gas station, a strip mall, a church, an apartment building, and multiple homes were damaged or destroyed near the university, and the tornado mangled some metal traffic light poles. It continued through residential areas to the east of Route 49, where it uprooted many trees, heavily damaged homes, and blow off the steeple of a church. Large metal light polesat the athletic fields of Hattiesburg High School were snapped, and the third base wall at the baseball field was destroyed. The basketball gym sustained considerable damage to the roof as well. Near the high school, the American Red Cross building lost its roof and some of its exterior walls, while the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi building had its roof torn off. The tornado then impacted the northern fringes of downtown Hattiesburg, damaging or destroying several more homes, snapping numerous power lines, and causing heavy damage to several large brick buildings, three of which were leveled. Damage intensity throughout the city of Hattiesburg ranged from EF2 to EF3. The tornado maintained its strength as it continued into Petal, where an ACE Hardware store was completely leveled and more homes were damaged or destroyed.
To the northeast of Petal, the tornado began to weaken, causing EF1 to EF2-strength damage to numerous roofs and downing many trees. It weakened to EF1-strength in Perry County before weakening rapidly and lifting in a wooded area just west of Runnelstown at 5:36 p.m. CST (2336 UTC).
A total of eight tornadoes touched down on February 10, including one in northeast Texas, five in southeast Mississippi, and two in southwest Alabama. The tornadoes caused a total of 86 injuries.
In Texas, an EF0 tornado touched down east of Livingston in Polk County. A trailer was destroyed and trees and power lines were downed, injuring one person. In Mississippi, an EF1 tornado touched down southeast of Arm in Lawrence County, causing damage to several barns and mobile homes and downing many trees. In nearby Marion County, an EF2 touched down south of the Columbia area and traveled into Lamar County, causing significant damage to many trees and numerous structures and injuring three people. This tornado lifted and the parent supercell quickly produced another tornado, which impacted the Hattiesburg area (See above), injuring 82 people. The same supercell would later produce two EF1 tornadoes across Wayne County, causing damage to many trees and structures, before moving into Alabama and dissipating.
Two EF1 tornadoes touched down across Washington and Clarke Counties in Alabama. These tornadoes removed roofs from homes, severely damaged a few mobile homes, and downed many trees, including numerous pine trees that were snapped.
This tornado was rated as a low-end EF4, with winds up to 170 mph (270 km/h). The tornado was on the ground for 33 minutes and traveled 22.5 miles (36.2 km). At one point, the tornado reached a maximum path width of 0.75 miles (1.21 km). It damaged many buildings and athletic fields at University of Southern Mississippi, Oak Grove High School, and Hattiesburg High School. In Lamar County (where the tornado first touched down and was rated EF4), 51 homes were destroyed and another 170 suffered major damage. The tornado was slightly weaker in Forrest County (EF3); however, 192 homes were destroyed and 338 suffered major damage. The tornado injured 82 people (19 in Lamar County and 63 in Forrest County) and caused damage amounting to $38.525 million.
This was the first violent tornado to occur in Lamar and Forrest Counties since April 24, 1908, in which 143 people were killed. 64 deaths occurred in Lamar and Forrest Counties alone with that tornado.
In the early morning hours of January 21, 2017, a destructive EF3 tornado destroyed many homes and businesses in Hattiesburg and Petal. This tornado was not as powerful as the 2013 event, though it resulted in four fatalities and many injuries.
President Barack Obama declared Mississippi a federal disaster area following the tornado. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant issued a State of emergency for Forrest, Lamar, Lawrence, and Marion Counties due to the impact of the severe storms and tornadoes in those counties.
Rain hampered cleanup efforts in the city during the days following the tornado. Schools remained closed in the Hattiesburg area until February 14, 2013, including the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). When schools reopened, school buses had to be borrowed from neighboring school districts as most of Hattiesburg's had been damaged by the tornado. USM had to move classes that were previously held in the eight damaged buildings. USM officials estimated that it would take over 10 million dollars to repair the school. Oak Grove High School in West Hattiesburg lost its athletic facilities as well as a few other buildings. The Lamar County School Superintendent said that it would take months and millions of dollars to repair. Hattiesburg High School also suffered destruction of some of its athletic facilities, including the basketball gym that had undergone renovations just a few weeks before.
Power outages in the area were as many as 13,000 just after the storm, but they were quickly reduced. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army worked together to provide food and shelter for victims of the tornado and the Mississippi State Department of Health offered free tetanus shots at county health departments for residents of storm-affected counties.
Sempra U.S. Gas & Power donated $100,000 to Hattiesburg area schools and the American Red Cross branch based in Hattiesburg.